McClanahan, William J. (1907–1981)

By: Gerald Saxon

Type: Biography

Published: April 1, 1995

Updated: January 24, 2020

William J. McClanahan, cartoonist, the son of Samuel Mortimer and Molly McClanahan, was born on December 2, 1907, in Greenville, Texas. He was raised in San Angelo and Dallas, where he attended Highland Park High School and graduated in 1927. He subsequently enrolled in engineering at Southern Methodist University, but dropped out to marry his high school sweetheart, Eloise Dunagan, and to study at the Dallas Art Institute. While he was there, he began his newspaper career as a sportswriter covering high school football games for the Dallas Morning News. Throughout the 1930s McClanahan held a number of sports-reporting jobs at both the News and a sister paper, the Dallas Journal. He interrupted his career to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II and attained the rank of captain. He remained in the Air Force Reserve until 1967, when he retired as a lieutenant colonel.

After his discharge from the service in 1946, he found his true vocation as a cartoonist. He returned to the News sports staff that same year to write, edit, and draw cartoons. His first regular sports cartoon appeared on August 4, 1946. McClanahan, considered by many people to be the first well-known sports cartoonist in the South, was an innovator. He is perhaps best remembered as the "father of the Southwest Conference cartoon mascots"; as the popularizer of the "Grid Gram," a column that was, according to him, a "visual boxscore of a football game"; and as the inventor of the challenging "Texas Sports Exam." In 1957, after the retirement of senior News cartoonist John F. Knott, McClanahan joined Jack Howells (Herc) Ficklen as an editorial cartoonist for the paper, a position he held until his retirement in 1973. His last regular cartoon appeared in the News on December 29, 1972. McClanahan won numerous awards, including the Southwest Journalism Award in 1970, numerous National Freedom Foundation awards, the 1967 Dallas Press Club Award for Cartooning, several Congress of Freedom Awards, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce Sportsman Award, the National Foundation for Highway Safety Award, the Lincoln National Life Foundation Award, and the 1972 Hella Temple Award. In retirement he published two books, a collection of cartoons called Texas: The Way It Used to Be (1968) and Scenery for Model Railroads (1958, 1967). McClanahan died of a heart attack in Dallas on September 7, 1981.

Robert F. Darden, Drawing Power: Knott, Ficklen, and McClanahan, Editorial Cartoonists of the Dallas Morning News (Waco: Baylor University Press, 1983).

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Media
  • Visual Arts
  • Cartooning
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Gerald Saxon, “McClanahan, William J.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995
January 24, 2020

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